It gives me great pleasure to address you on the occasion of this celebration of 20 years of partnership between Albania and the World Bank Group. It has been a long, sometimes difficult but always rewarding road: one that began with the breakdown of the Communist walls of Isolation and Poverty and that is gradually being paved to lead Albania to the gates of Europe, where it historically belongs. I am also happy to see so many participants here, reflecting all spheres of the Albanian society as well as our development partners. This gathering -- Parliament, Government, Civil Society and Students-- it’s truly reflective of the inclusiveness of the Bank’s work here in Albania. Most importantly, I am very happy that this event coincides with Albania’s celebration of 100 years of Independence!! It is a moment in which Albanians can take pride on what they have achieved, reflect on lessons learned, and make plans for the Future.
During my five incredibly exciting years as Country Director for the Western Balkans, the breadth and diversity of our portfolio in Albania has enabled me to travel to almost every corner of the country - visiting schools, hospitals, laboratories, irrigation systems, power plants, sewage plants, markets, roads, bridges, lakes, dams and forests. I can personally bare witness to the change that the Country has gone through and this is sometimes a better illustration of the progress than statistics can give. Speaking with beneficiaries about the results is one of the most satisfying aspects of our work. In the words of our Vice President “Albania is an excellent example of an effective and fruitful partnership between a country and the Bank. He frequently refers to Albania as “a development success story” that moved from poverty to becoming a middle income country in less than one generation”.
For those of us in the World Bank Group, it has been immensely satisfying to partner with Albania technically, financially, and through policy advice, on many aspect of its development needs. Our support to Albania builds on the Bank’s long experience in working in developing countries all over the world. We have tried to learn both from our successes but also from our mistakes and have shared this experience with Albania as it continued to forge its own development path. Analytical support has been also carried out through regional programs in virtually all the key development areas. Success in the Bank’s Albania program has only been possible because of strong partnership with Albanians in many spheres of society as well as with our Development Partners.
Our private sector arm, IFC has also worked very hard to support the reforms of Albania’s business climate. In 2009 the WBG Doing Business report placed Albania as one of top ten reformers among 185 countries. IFC continues to assist Albanian business to gain access to finance and technical expertise through its investments.
Our joint work has been so intense over the last 20 years that it is impossible to cover it all in this speech. I am therefore, pleased that our WB Tirana Office has prepared entitled … “Albania – World Bank - 20 Years of Working Together”. This booklet tries to summarize key aspects of Albania’s progress over the past two decades and provides more detailed information. The publication also includes the personal, impressions, assessments, lessons and feelings of Albanian leaders and Bank officials who have worked on Albania.
Going forward, Albania will need to confront emerging challenges to maintain improvement in the welfare of its population:
The global economic crisis (with Europe its epicenter) is still subject to heightened uncertainty. Albania, like many of its neighbors will have to develop strategies to stimulate growth, build human capital, and provide a reliable safety net for its most vulnerable. Albania was one of the few countries in Europe that maintained positive growth rates at 3.3 percent in 2009, due to limited exposure to international financial markets and an expansionary fiscal policy. The crisis did, however, lower remittances and exports, which led to the moderation of growth and fiscal revenues. The growth outlook for 2012 is at around 1 percent, mainly due to the continued deterioration of the external environment. Significant external shocks from Greece and/or Italy would depress growth prospects further given Albania’s large trade, labor market, and banking system links with Italy and Greece.
The WBG, in close dialogue with the authorities, is closely following the evolving events and their impact on Albania and is working to identify policy measures and financial support help address the emerging challenges. One immediate and important decision was to increase the available financial support for Albania, particularly to deal with key issues such as public debt, financial stability and energy. The additional funds would practically double planned lending to Albania under the current Country Partnership Strategy which aims to further advance Albania’s EU accession agenda as outlined in the National Strategy for Development and Integration. The CPS aims to achieve solid development results in areas that are vitally important for Albania’s future. In this context I would just like to highlight the three main pillars of the CPS agreed between the Government and the bank, following consultations with many of you present. These pillars are:
- Increasing Competitiveness through improving energy supply, strengthening road network securing property rights and making broad improvements in governance, anti-corruption efforts and public sector management.
- Sustaining Social Gains in spite of economic slowdown by continuing to invest in education and health and putting in place an effective and efficient safety net to prevent unacceptable declines in welfare.
- Strengthening Water Resource Management and helping Albania to adapt to Climate Change. by supporting water resource management, rehabilitating dams and introducing catastrophe risk insurance facilities
Finally, on a personal note, I’d like to express my sincere appreciation of this beautiful country -- with its breathtaking coast and spectacular mountains, its ancient fortresses and castles that recall Albania's heroic struggles against invaders and the unique charm of the old stone cities of Berat and Girokaster. not to mention the best sea-food I have ever eaten! More importantly, to praise the hard working, creative, entrepreneurial Albanians I have met through our projects and assure them that friendships I have developed with the many talented and committed people I have had the privilege to work with, will remain with me forever.